Humphrey, L. M., Hill, D. L., Carroll, K. W., Rourke, M., Kang, T. I., Feudtner, C.
BACKGROUND: The psychological well-being of siblings of children with life threatening illness remains largely uncharted. Pediatric cancer research suggests that a supportive family environment may protect the psychological well-being of siblings. OBJECTIVE: We hypothesized that (1) siblings of pediatric palliative care patients would show clinical/behavioral scores that were elevated but that rates of serious psychopathology would be comparable to the general population of children their age; and (2) higher family functioning scores would be associated with lower clinical scores and higher adaptive scores for these siblings. METHODS: We conducted an observational study with families in which a patient receiving palliative care had one or more siblings between the ages of 6 and 11. Parents completed the Behavioral Assessment System for Children, Second Edition (BASC-2) to assess the siblings’ psychological well-being and the Family Assessment Device (FAD) to assess the family environment. RESULTS: Twenty-four parents reported data for 30 siblings. Only three siblings scored in the clinical range on a BASC-2 composite clinical scale, and 11 siblings scored in the at-risk range on one or more composite scales. Higher FAD scores predicted significantly higher externalization composite clinical scores (7.54, 95% CI: 1.12, 13.97, p < 0.05) and significantly higher behavioral composite scores (7.88, 95% CI: 1.55, 14.21, p < 0.05). DISCUSSION: Siblings of pediatric palliative care patients are not experiencing lower psychological well-being than the general population. The prediction that a positive family environment would be associated with higher levels of psychological health was supported.